There’s a very good one act play by David Greig called “the Letter of Last Resort” (which you can listen to here). It’s based on the premise that one of the first tasks of any new Prime Minister in the UK is to write a set of letters that are sent to the Captains of our nuclear submarine fleet. In the event of their losing contact with the country, it instructs them what they should do. Options include retaliating, by firing their nuclear warheads at whoever they believe were the perpetrators, surrendering, or sailing to some other country and offering them our nuclear missiles.
It’s a gloriously far-fetched political black comedy, based on a modicum of truth. However, it’s likely that a very similar debate is taking place in a boardroom in Taiwan at the moment, as TSMC and other leading silicon chip companies debate what they do in the event of a Chinese invasion. I suspect there’s a parallel one being conducted within the Taiwanese Parliament. Should these plans ever need to be realised, it will have very serious consequences on everyone’s favourite technology and put a stake in the heart of the smartphone industry.
Sometimes, it needs what seems to be a small, tangential innovation to make a product successful. At the time, it may not seem much, but it can result in the product acquiring a life of its own. One product which is making its way along that trajectory is the humble earbud charging case.
The history of the charging case is quite interesting. Stereo wireless earbuds were a long time coming. It needed some serious technical innovation by a couple of chip companies to make them possible – new technology by Cambridge Silicon Radio (now part of Qualcomm) to let them receive and render separate left and right audio channels, and small near-field magnetic induction chips from another silicon company – NXP to send wireless signals through our heads. It then needed the brilliance of a German startup called Bragi to turn these concepts into working stereo earbuds, kickstarting the whole hearables market. It has become the fastest growing technology product ever, eclipsing even the iPhone in its growth.
While the Tory party seems to be fixated on finding a Prime Minister with a longer-dated “Best Before” label than Liz Truss, both they and the Labour party appear to have missed a more important point, which is that there’s never been a better time to effect electoral reform for the UK, but neither Party seems to have noticed, being too obsessed with the cult of premiership.
Recent events have shown that the current two party system is even more broken than Liz Truss’ economic vision, and whoever wins the current Prime Ministerial beauty parade is in for a stormy ride, but nobody seems to ask why it’s all going wrong, and what can be done about it.
There’s nothing like an energy crisis to bring out the urban myths about what’s stealing all of our electricity. The most prevalent of these is the concept of vampire or phantom power, where devices which are left plugged in or on standby are demonised, with the claim that they consume kiloWattHours of energy, pushing up our bills. Given that electricity prices in the UK look set to triple this year, that’s a big worry. However, many of the figures I see being used to support this are decades old, which means that some of the advice being given is misleading or downright wrong. So I thought it would be a good time to look at exactly how much power our devices actually take, so that people can make informed decisions.
It was all meant to be done and dusted by the end of 2018, with smart meters installed in every home in Great Britain, with an extra two years to finish off the “difficult” ones. That was quickly revised to make the end of 2020 the target date, since when it has been consistently pushed back as the industry has struggled with executing a badly thought out programme. Last month, the latest figures released by the UK Government for working smart meters (the graph excludes the ones which have been fitted but aren’t working), show that we haven’t quite made it to the half-way mark yet, with electricity smart meter fittings approaching the 50% mark, with gas lagging slightly behind. It’s taken around 8 years to get this far, which suggests that we probably won’t have the rollout complete this side of 2030. Whilst the number of installations is increasing, within the next few years, the connection technology they use looks as if it will become obsolete, so we’re going to have to start replacing or upgrading many of those already installed.